Words, Alone, Are Meaningless
We’ve all heard sayings like, “Put your money where your mouth is!”, “Practice what you preach!”, and “Do what you say.” All these popular statements, and others like them, reveal something very important about us. We do not inherently trust what people say. Words are many and words are easy. However, the words we utter to each other are often empty, and the promises we hastily make to one another are sometimes not kept. Words, alone, are worthless. If we are wise, we will only place our confidence in what can be clearly proven – most often by deeds which back the words we say to one another up.
Belief, Alone, Is Worthless
In a similar way, belief without clear evidence of that belief, can neither be accepted nor trusted – either by God, or by others. It is easy, for example, for one to say that she believes in God. But is her life a mirror which reflects perfectly the good and generous image of God which resides within her heart? Likewise, it is simple for one to say that he believes in the grace of Jesus Christ. But does he demonstrate his creed through merciful and forgiving deeds, which reflect perfectly the full compassion of Jesus Christ? Like words, belief without proof of that belief is meaningless. It should neither be accepted nor trusted.
Hypocrisy Is the Enemy of God and the Church
Beliefs, like words, are easy to formulate. But the all-important deeds which clearly prove that our beliefs are real are sometimes more difficult, if not impossible, to enact. If we do not fully live in accord with what we say we believe, then we, by definition, are hypocrites. We are pretenders because our actions stand in vivid contradiction to what we say we believe about the actions of God. Our hypocrisy is one of the biggest enemies of God, and it is perhaps the greatest impediment to the mission of God’s church, which we are called to carry out. How can anyone trust what we say about the graciousness and love of our God, if we do not visibly show them the mercy and acceptance of God in what we are doing on God’s behalf?
Faith Without Works Is Dead
The problem of hypocrisy, saying what we believe about the goodness and kindness God but not living in tune with God’s good and kind ways, has been around since the beginning of the church. In fact, the Apostle James once preached a sermon about it. To a church which was bitterly divided over many issues, James loudly proclaimed, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!” “What good is it,” James boomingly exclaimed, “if you claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such a ‘faith’ save you?” A little later James boldly and clearly concluded, “Faith without deeds is dead.”
Many in the early church said they believed in the grace and mercy of God expressed and proven in the life and deeds of Jesus Christ. But some were not showing that belief to others by being gracious and merciful to one another in their disagreements.
Far too often, this very same inconsistency manifests itself in today’s church. That is a shame because hypocrisy, remember, is the enemy of God and it is an impediment to the mission and growth of the church. People see the disjunction between what we say about God’s love and grace and the meanness and pettiness with which we treat each other. It keeps them away from God and removed from God’s church. James is correct: Faith without good deeds to prove it is dead. In fact, it never truly existed.
A Faith Which Is Alive and Meaningful
Many folks are wondering what the key to success is for the church today. “How can we live into our calling and bring people to God, grow the church, and change the world for the better in the process?”, they are questioning.
Well, it all begins by reading and studying the sermon of James. It expands as we realize that our deeds must more fully and perfectly match those of God as revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus is true God and true human. In the person of Jesus, God reveals God’s very own kindness, love, mercy and forgiveness toward humankind. In the person of Jesus, we also see a human being fully enacting his beliefs in a good God by himself being kind, loving, merciful and forgiving to others, including his opponents. As is the Father, so is the Son. As is God, so is the believer.
If you want to have a faith which is alive, and if you want to live in a truly meaningful way, then help and save others as God in Jesus Christ helped and saved them. Live your faith to the fullest by doing good deeds. Prove the goodness of God and the goodness of your faith by what you do. As people out there see God’s goodness through your goodness, perhaps the Spirit will move them toward you, giving you an opportunity to explain the source of your loving-kindness to them. Perhaps they will want it for themselves and they, too, will draw near to God and choose to serve God in and through the church.